Dry March devastates snowpack
April 4, 2012
Snowpack is at a near-record low in Middle Park for the beginning of April, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Services in Kremmling.
Snow survey measurements in the last days of March show the upper Colorado River Basin at 58 percent of average, which is less snowpack than the drought year of 2002 when snowpack on April 1 was at 62 percent, according to snow surveyor Mark Volt.
“Last year, we were at 135 percent on April 1,” Volt said.
Low- to mid-elevation snow melted off rapidly during the last two weeks of March, and high-elevation snow – which usually doesn’t start running off until April and May – has been melting off much earlier than normal, according to Volt.
“Irrigators, towns, river runners and other water users can expect lower than normal river levels this summer,” Volt said. “It is almost impossible to catch up on snowpack at this late date. We can only hope for a rainy summer.”
The Front Range Water Council, which is made up of seven water-utility members including Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, is “keeping a close eye on snowpack levels,” according to statements released on April 2.
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Denver Water, which gets about half of its supply from the Colorado River and half from the South Platt River, has not yet implemented additional water restrictions but “could if its system reservoir levels drop,” the release states. “In the meantime, Denver Water asks residents to conserve as much as possible.”
After the 2002 drought, Denver Water nearly ran out of water in the north end of its system.
Northern Water and its Municipal Subdistrict, which provides water by way of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in Grand County, says it has “above-average water in its storage reservoirs due to recent high snowpack years. It will be able to fulfill this year’s deliveries despite lackluster snowpack,” the Front Range Water Council release states.
Snowpack in the mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 17 percent of the 30-year average at Phantom Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park, according to a Snotel site, to 87 percent in Buffalo Park north of Gore Pass, according to the Conservation Services. New record lows were broken for a few local snow courses.
For each foot of snow, there are about 3.8 inches of water.
The April 1 readings are the most critical for predicting runoff and water supplies. From this point on, spring runoff will be highly dependent on melting conditions and precipitation.
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.